Are you in a game?

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Art-theft,
stake-outs and penetrating high security areas may seem like a list of
television themes but you may find yourself caught in the middle of one of them
without even knowing. Some may say that the era of pervasive gaming is upon us,
where digital mobile technologies mean that we can interact with unseen
opponents 24/7. However, the fact is that pervasive games, or games which
transgress the “magic circle” of traditional games, have existed as long as street
carnivals.

 

 

Pervasive
gaming aims to break the boundaries (the “magic circle”) of what are considered
traditional games. These boundaries include: place, the games can be played
anywhere; time, although the gamer may choose when they want to consciously
interact with the game, the gaming never stops; and people, individuals may not
even know that they are a part of a game.

Researcher Jussi Holopainen, a key
collaborator and planner of IPerG (Integrated Project on Pervasive Gaming)
recalls stories where people have played roles in pervasive games without even
knowing that they are doing so. Holopainen, who has researched the
relationships between technologies, gaming and play since 1998 at Nokia
Research Centre, recalls one scenario where the challenge of a game was to
penetrate a high security area of a hotel. Gamers were trying to persuade staff
to allow them into the area. Unknowingly, the hotel staff had become
characters/obstacles in the game. In another example, gamers were required to
obtain a specific artwork from an art gallery. In this scenario, the unaware
staff had considered the scenario so far-fetched that they began “playing” with
the gamers.

Anyone
anywhere may be consciously or not involved in a game, whether through pure
spatial circumstance or due to the technology that they utilise. Holopainen
describes how traditional games generally had a start and an end, whereas
pervasive games are continuous. In Citywide games, non-players may also become
spectators, particularly when gamers have drawn attention to themselves through
actions out of the ordinary. Through these scenarios professionals such as
performance artists have capitalised on the combination of a live audience and
real-space, and the capabilities of broadcasting online via wireless
technologies, to bring art out of the gallery. On rare occasions, unaffiliated
bystanders have been hijacked through gamers mistaking them for other gamers.

IPerG began
in 2004 and will continue until 2008. It is a collaboration between the University of Tampere,
Nokia Research, Interactive Institute, Swedish Institute of Computer Science
(SICS), the University of Nottingham, Fraunhofer Institute, Sony NetServices, Gotland University and Blast Theory. IPerG is
devoted to supporting research in pervasive gaming which spans topics such as
analysing how new technologies can be incorporated into pervasive gaming, what
the ethical implications are of pervasive gaming, how gaming may be developed
in terms of entertainment and feasibility, and what the social impacts of the
gaming are.

Holopainen’s own research looks at how PDAs (Personal Digital
Assistants) and regular mobile phones may be utilised for gaming purposes. A
characteristic which makes gaming via these mobile devices more significant
than via regular PCs is that they have been designed specifically for personal
usage. In other words, the mobile phone is an individual’s trusted belonging
containing highly personal information such as SMS:s and phone numbers.
Holopainen cites research of mobile phone games from the older Nokia 3310, 3330
and 5110s Snake Game (incidentally the most played mobile phone game in
history) to games which utilise all the functions of a phone such as the
calendar and alarm.

In regards
to the future of pervasive gaming and pervasive game research Holopainen
speculates that in the future, more so than now, games will be running all the
time. Where now the idea of observing grown men secretly handing large brown
envelopes and intercepting other’s telephone calls may seem peculiar or
criminal, in the future there is the possibility that continuous real-space
gaming may become as normal as SMS, or even the Snake Game itself. Interfaces
are constantly being re-developed which may make even virtual space more
tangible to the user. One field that Holopainen suggests should be expanded in
regards to research is the investigation of ethics. One workshop that covers
such a theme is Ethics of Pervasive
Gaming
, to be delivered at the PerGames conference June 11-12th
in Salzburg, by
Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros and Annika Waern.

In
November, IPerG will be releasing a new game called Mythical: The Mobile Awakening, you will find information
about this at www.mythicalmobile.com

To find out more about IPerG and their research see: www.pervasive-gaming.org